Julia Galef had this pretty nuts thing to say about a recent guest on her (now-revived) podcast:
He's got some sort of interesting things to say about deaths of despair, but I'm not entirely sure his explanation is very good – Galef's race-based data analysis is a fair point, and I'm not sure he addressed it well. When he says, "some things were happening" that are different, it seems her follow up, "like what?" is pretty much the central academic question. Look, I think there should be stronger local communities, there will likely be plenty of benefits from that. But if that's not the thing causing deaths of despair, and we know that because some sub-populations experience the same problems getting worse without increases in deaths of despair, that means we can't count on that to solve the problem. I hate to be the one saying, "we have to actually understand the causes of problems to solve them", but we do, and it seems precisely one of the two speakers on that podcast are firmly on that page. His answer after "like what?" is what he really thinks the issue is. The rest is spin. Galef's chronic pain suggestion is likely much stronger than his entire model (which is to say, I think the rest of his discussion adds roughly nothing – tough breaks, but it's an important public policy endeavor and getting the wrong answers can make things much worse).
That's his area of expertise, but he also speaks about effective altruism, which he, somewhat bizarrely, opposed. Not that opposition to effective altruism is unique – but because the manner of dismissal is, itself, bizarre. For instance, from his written remarks on the subject:
[L]ack of money is not killing people. The true villains are the chronically disorganized and underfunded health care systems [...]
Lack of money isn't killing people, just underfunding. Sure, sure. Let's all pretend that makes sense. Those two sentences are literally adjacent. I'm not the best writer but I try to only contradict myself accidentally, or at a greater distance.
I don't think we should have a national discussion based on this guy's work. I'm not entirely convinced he makes a compelling case about almost anything.